Contrary to popular belief, blame for Flyers' playoff exit shouldn't all fall on Claude Giroux

Contrary to popular belief, blame for Flyers' playoff exit shouldn't all fall on Claude Giroux

When you’re the captain of a Philadelphia Flyers team that just suffered a frustrating first-round exit at the hands of a hated rival, glaring eyes of disappointment are going to be focused on you in the following days.

So it should come as no surprise that is the exact situation Claude Giroux finds himself in at this very moment after the Flyers quietly bowed out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 2-1 Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers this past Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Even though Giroux didn’t have anywhere near the best series of his life, placing all the blame for the Flyers’ ouster on the Hart Trophy finalist isn’t very fair.

First off, let’s give the Rangers some credit. They played smothering defense and blocked a boatload of shots. The defensive pairing of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh drew Giroux most of the series and played incredibly well against him.

Also, it’s hard to score when your team can barely get the puck out of its own zone and allows the Rangers to have as much puck possession as they did, but that’s another story for another day.

But, yes, Giroux struggled at times in the series and was too passive when he had certain opportunities to shoot. That said, he still led the team with six points in seven games. G, Jake Voracek and rookie Jason Akeson were the only ones really creating legitimate scoring opportunities.

Outside of those three, the series was a total team offensive failure for the Flyers.

Excluding empty-net goals, Philadelphia scored just 14 goals in seven games. For those of you not well-equipped in the field of mathematics, that’s an average of just two goals per game. That’s just not going to work, especially in the Stanley Cup Playoffs against a defense like the Rangers have.

To make matters worse, four of those 14 goals came from defensemen whose main objective is to, you know, play defense. Their main objective isn’t to score.

Among the Flyers’ 20-goal scorers in the regular season, Scott Hartnell and Brayden Schenn didn’t score in the series. Vinny Lecavalier and Matt Read each tallied just once. Take away Wayne Simmonds’ hat trick in Game 6 and all he had was an empty-netter.

As you may have noticed, Giroux’s offensive backup just didn’t show up in the series. Outside of Voracek and Akeson, a rookie who played just two career regular season games before bursting onto the scene in this series, Giroux rarely had any help.

And when that happened, the Rangers were able hone in even more on Giroux and take away what little space he already had.

So while the pressure and blame comes with the territory of being the Flyers’ captain, all of it shouldn’t fall on Giroux. There is plenty of blame to go around for the Flyers’ offensive struggles against the Rangers.

Steve Mason deserved a much better fate.

If it’s any consolation, this Penguins-Rangers matchup we’re subjected to is a matchup of the NHL’s two most overrated teams that are playing to be eaten alive by the Canadiens or Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final.

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

NEW YORK -- John Wall had 29 points and 13 assists, scoring Washington's final four points in the last 32 seconds as the surging Wizards beat the New York Knicks 113-110 on Thursday night.

Otto Porter Jr. made six 3-pointers for the second straight night and added 23 points, but the Wizards needed big plays from Wall down the stretch to win their fourth in a row.

He made two free throws to put Washington back on top after New York had rallied to take a 110-109 lead, then rebounded Carmelo Anthony's miss and left all the Knicks in his dust as he raced down the floor for a dunk with 13.7 seconds to play.

Anthony finished with 34 points but Wall stole the ball from Brandon Jennings to prevent the Knicks from attempting a 3-pointer that could have tied it (see full recap).

Leonard scores 34 to lead Spurs over Nuggets
SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard scored 34 points, rookie Dejounte Murray added a season-high 24 and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a pregame injury to Pau Gasol in beating the Denver Nuggets 118-104 on Thursday night.

Denver's three-game winning streak was snapped despite a career-high 35 points from Nikola Jokic.

Leonard had his fifth straight 30-point performance, right after learning he will start for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game for the second consecutive season.

The Spurs were unexpectedly without Gasol, Tony Parker and then coach Gregg Popovich. Gasol and Parker were both late scratches due to injury, and Popovich was ejected for the first time this season.

Gasol broke the ring finger on his left (non-shooting) hand by jamming it against Kyle Anderson's shoulder during pregame warmups while attempting a running hook. The 16-year veteran center immediately clutched his hand and left the court.

X-rays revealed the break, and the Spurs said there is no timeline for Gasol's return.

Irving, James lead Cavs over Suns
CLEVELAND -- Kyrie Irving scored 26 points, All-Star teammate LeBron James had 21 points and 15 assists, and the Cleveland Cavaliers looked more like themselves at home in a 118-103 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

The Cavs were back in Quicken Loans Arena following a six-game road trip (their longest of the season) that concluded with an embarrassing 35-point loss at Golden State. But on their home floor, they had better offensive balance and ball movement while improving to 30-11 -- the same record Cleveland had at the halfway point of its 2016 NBA championship season.

Channing Frye scored 18, Iman Shumpert 17 and James Jones 14 while filling in for star forward Kevin Love, still bothered by back spasms.

Tyson Chandler had 22 points and 16 rebounds, but the Suns lost for the fourth time in five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).